pulse oximeter as a small sticker that sticks on your fingernail and measures heart rate, motion, and blood oxygen

This Fingernail Sticker Can Detect When You Stop Breathing

Sometimes we dig through the archives to see what kind of crazy hacks we can pull out of the depths of the world wide web and this one was worth sharing. Researchers at Northwestern University developed a sticker that’s applied to the fingernail and measures heart rate, motion, and blood oxygen, all without a battery.

The photoplethysmograph (PPG) system is similar to what we’ve covered before and the motion sensor is simply an accelerometer, so we won’t go over those aspects of the device. The parts of the device that did catch our attention were the battery-less operation as well as its size. It’s just so dang small! And fits snuggly on a fingernail or on even on your earlobe. The size here is actually a very interesting feature and not just a marketing plug. Because the device is so small and lightweight, it is very easy to adhere to the fingernail or skin with very little sensory perception. Basically, the person wearing the device won’t even notice it’s there. That’s definitely an advantage over the traditional, bulky, hospital-grade instruments we’ve grown accustomed to.

The device adheres really well given its small and lightweight design, so motion artifacts are significantly reduced. Motion artifacts in PPG-based devices are due to the relative motion between the optode (LED and photodiode) and the skin. The traditional approaches of ensuring the device don’t move are for the patient to keep very still during a recording, to wear the device tightly against the skin (think of how tightly you need to wear your smartwatch to get consistent readings), or use some seriously tough and uncomfortable adhesive as you may have done if you’ve ever gotten an electrocardiogram reading before. This device eliminates those three problems.pulse oximeter as a small sticker that sticks on your fingernail and measures heart rate, motion, and blood oxygen

The other aspect of the device that caught our attention is its use of wireless power instead of a battery. In some senses, this could be seen as an advantage or as a disadvantage. The device relies on NFC for power and data transmission, a pretty common approach for devices that only need to be used intermittently. Wireless power could be a bit problematic for continuous monitoring devices which provide readings every second or several times a second. But who knows, wireless power seems to be everywhere these days.

Digging into the details a bit, the double-layer antenna is designed around the circumference of the device using wet etching to create traces on a copper polyimide foil. The team electroplated holes through the different layers of the device (optode layer, first antenna layer, polyimide, second antenna layer, component layer, protective top coat) connecting the antenna to the die pad NFC chip (SL13A, AMS AG). Connecting the chip requires some pretty fine-pitch soldering techniques, but nothing we’re not accustomed to here at Hackaday. Overall, they seemed pretty successful, obtaining a Q factor of 16 and a transmission distance of 30 mm using a smartphone and not some giant reader antenna.

Definitely, a really cool project that we recommend checking out.

Custom-designed photoplethysmogram designed to fit in ear like an ear bud

Breathe Through Your Ears?

With all the attention given to heart rate monitoring and step counting, respiratory rate monitoring is often overlooked. Smartwatches are starting to incorporate respiratory rate monitoring more and more these days. However, current devices often simply look at breaths per minute without extracting more interesting features of the respiratory waveform which could give us more insight into our bodies than breaths per minute could alone. [Davies] and his team decided they wanted to change that by making an earbud that can measure respiratory rate. Continue reading “Breathe Through Your Ears?”

An LED Heartbeat Display You Can Wear On Your Sleeve

There are a few different ways to take a person’s pulse, with varying utility depending on the categories said patient fits in to. [Nitin Nair]’s method doesn’t really have a medical application, but it’s certainly a neat example of what you can do with modern sensors. 

The build combines an EmotiBit sensor platform with an Adafruit Feather and accompanying Charlieplexed LED module. The EmotiBit packs a PPG, or photoplethysmogram sensor, otherwise known as a pulse oximeter, which uses optical methods to detect changes in blood volume beneath the skin. From this data, a pulse rate can be derived, and the LEDs flashed with a heart graphic in concert with the rhythm of the wearer’s heart. The benefit of the PPG in the EmotiBit is that it can be worn on the wearer’s arm, or other location with suitable vascularization. This allows the wearer to place the sensor on the arm, and thus wear their heart on their sleeve.

It’s a cool concept, and we’d love to see it neatly packaged with a smoothly animated fade as a sports accessory. It’d be an easy way to signal how fast your heart rate recovers on a run with friends – the device could brag about your fitness for you. Alternatively, if pulse oximetry isn’t enough for you, go ahead and build an ECG instead!

Toilet Seat Could Save Your Ass

Our morning routine could be appended to something like “breakfast, stretching, sit on a medical examiner, shower, then commute.” If we are speaking seriously, we don’t always get to our morning stretches, but a quick medical exam could be on the morning agenda. We would wager that a portion of our readers are poised for that exam as they read this article. The examiner could come in the form of a toilet seat. This IoT throne is the next device you didn’t know you needed because it can take measurements to detect signs of heart failure every time you take a load off.

Tracking heart failure is not just one test, it is a buttload of tests. Continuous monitoring is difficult although tools exist for each test. It is unreasonable to expect all the at-risk people to sit at a blood pressure machine, inside a ballistocardiograph, with an oximeter on their fingers three times per day. Getting people to browse Hackaday on their phones after lunch is less of a struggle. When the robots overthrow us, this will definitely be held against us.

We are not sure if this particular hardware will be open-source, probably not, but there is a lesson here about putting sensors where people will use them. Despite the low rank on the glamorous scale, from a UX point of view, it is ingenious. How can we flush out our own projects to make them usable? After all, if you build a badass morning alarm, but it tries to kill you, it will need some work and if you make a gorgeous clock with the numbers all messed up…okay, we dig that particular one for different reasons.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Open-source Pulse Oximetry

Chances are pretty good you’ve had a glowing probe clipped to your fingertip or earlobe in some clinic or doctor’s office. If you have, then you’re familiar with pulse oximetry, a cheap and non-invasive test that’s intended to measure how much oxygen your blood is carrying, with the bonus of an accurate count of your pulse rate. You can run down to the local drug store or big box and get a fingertip pulse oximeter for about $25USD, but if you want to learn more about photoplethysmography (PPG), [Rajendra Bhatt]’s open-source pulse oximeter might be a better choice.

PPG is based on the fact that oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin have different optical characteristics. A simple probe with an LED floods your fingertip with IR light, and a photodiode reads the amount of light reflected by the hemoglobin. [Rajendra]’s Easy Pulse Plugin receives and amplifies the signal from the probe and sends it to a header, suitable for Arduino consumption. What you do with the signal from there is up to you – light an LED in time with your heartbeat, plot oxygen saturation as a function of time, or drive a display to show the current pulse and saturation.

We’ve seen some pretty slick DIY pulse oximeters before, and some with a decidedly home-brew feel, but this seems like a good balance between sophisticated design and open source hackability. And don’t forget that IR LEDs can be used for other non-invasive diagnostics too.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: